Bed Bugs War in Chicago Apartments

The Chicago City Council has declared war on bed bugs.  The diminutive but highly menacing insects have returned from the verge of extinction, and our local leaders are now determined to eradicate them by any means necessary.  As a result, a new Chicago ordinance enlists everyone to join the fight.  Business licensees, landlords, tenants, condominium associations, cooperatives, and sellers of “secondhand bedding” all have affirmative obligations under the ordinance and need to be aware of their wartime duties.

The new bed bug legislation passed the City Council on June 5, 2013, and took effect on September 2, 2013 (although the new disclosure requirements imposed on landlords did not take effect until December 23, 2013).  Broadly speaking, the law requires prompt reporting of known or suspected bed bug infestations by tenants, immediate provision of pest control services and detailed record-keeping by landlords and hoteliers, affirmative cooperation by tenants, and safe-handling and disposal of infected property by everyone.  The law also requires new disclosures by landlords and protects tenants who report known or suspected bed bug infestations from retaliation by landlords.  In the paragraphs below, we’ve summarized the most important aspects of the new ordinance.

All Chicago Landlords And Business Licensees Are Required To Provide Pest Control Services

Every Chicago landlord (from high-rise apartment REIT’s to regular Joe’s who rent out their single-family homes or condominiums) and every licensed Chicago business (which includes hotels and single room occupancies) is required to provide pest control services whenever bed bugs are discovered on the premises.  No time limit is imposed on business licensees, but landlords are required to exterminate within ten days after (i) a bed bug is found or reasonably suspected to be residing at the premises or (ii) a tenant provides written notice of a known or reasonably suspected bed bug infestation on the premises or within the tenant’s rental unit.  Landlords are also required to notify tenants, in writing, of their responsibilities to cooperate under the ordinance and to undertake any necessary preparations prior to any extermination work.

The work must be performed by a licensed, registered, or certified pest management professional, employing industry best practices, as many times as necessary to eliminate the problem (i.e., “until such time that no evidence of bed bugs can be found and verified”).  In the case of apartments, the pest management professional must inspect and, if necessary, treat the two dwelling units on either side of the infested “dwelling unit,” as well as the two dwelling units above and below it.  In the case of hotels and single room occupancies, no sleeping accommodations may be made available in any room in which bed bugs are found (or even “suspected”) unless a pest management professional conducts an inspection and determines that no evidence of bed bugs “can be found and verified.”

Landlords Must Provide Tenants With Bed Bug Brochures

Any time a lease is entered into or renewed, every Chicago landlord governed by the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (the CRLTO) must provide the tenant with an informational brochure on bed bug prevention and treatment prepared by the Chicago Department of Public Health.  This is now the ninth disclosure potentially required of Chicago landlords, for those keeping track at home.  (We have reviewed all the necessary landlord disclosures in a separate article.)  Not all Chicago landlords are subject to the CRLTO, however, and the most common exception extends to owner-occupied buildings of six units or less.  (The types of landlords exempted from the CRLTO are identified in Chapter 5, Section 12-020, of the Chicago Municipal Code.)

Condominiums And Cooperatives Must Prepare Pest Management Plans

By no later than Monday, December 2, 2013, every condominium or cooperative building  in Chicago was required to prepare a pest management plan for the detection, inspection, and treatment of bed bugs.  Because the average condominium or cooperative association is ill-equipped to draft a pest management plan from scratch, the Chicago Department of Public Health is required to prepare a sample pest management plan, detailing “best practices” for the detection and treatment of bed bugs, and make it available through a publicly-accessible website. 

Record-Keeping Requirements Apply To Everyone

Every Chicago business licensee, landlord, condominium association, and cooperative must maintain a written record of all pest control measures undertaken, including receipts for all work and any reports prepared by the pest management professional.  These records must then be preserved for at least three years and remain open to inspection by various departments of the City of Chicago.

Tenants And Condominium Owners Are Required To Speak Up Immediately And Cooperate

Every Chicago tenant is required to notify his or her landlord within five days, in writing, of any known or suspected bed bug infestation within the dwelling unit (including infestations of clothing, furniture, or other personal property) or of any “recurring or unexplained bites, stings, irritation, or sores of the skin or body” suspected to have been caused by bed bugs.  (The ordinance does not extend to tenants at assisted-living facilities and shared housing establishments.)  Similarly, every owner of a condominium unit and every lessee holding a proprietary lease in a cooperative building is required to “immediately” notify the governing association, in writing, of any known or reasonably suspected bed bug infestation at the premises, including infestations of clothing, furniture, and other personal property located therein.

Once the landlord or building manager has been informed in writing of a known or suspected infestation, the owner of the condominium or cooperative unit, or the tenant at the apartment, is required to cooperate in the control, treatment, and eradication of any bed bug infestation.  As to tenants, the ordinance spells out the duty to cooperate in detail.  Specifically, tenants are required to:

  • grant access to the apartment at reasonable times and upon reasonable notice for the purposes of inspection and treatment;
  • make any necessary preparations for pest control treatment (such as cleaning, dusting, or vacuuming) in accordance with any pest management professional’s recommendations; and
  • dispose of any personal property that cannot be treated or cleaned prior to the extermination at the apartment.

Disposal of potentially infested property is not so simple.  Tenants are prohibited from removing “any” personal property from a dwelling unit without safely enclosing it in a plastic bag before it moves through any common area or is stored in any other location at the building.  The property must remain enclosed in plastic until properly disposed of or treated and no evidence of bed bug infestation can be detected and verified.  (Use of the word “any” is typically draconian.  Interpreted literally, it means that a tenant cannot remove anything from the apartment, including a phone, a wallet, eyeglasses, car keys, or sunglasses, unless the items are enclosed in plastic first.  We predict widespread non-compliance.)

Landlords May Not Retaliate Against Tenants Who Act In Good Faith

The new ordinance also prohibits retaliatory conduct by landlords.  No landlord may knowingly terminate a tenancy, increase the rent, decrease services, file or threaten to file a lawsuit for possession, or refuse to renew a lease because a tenant has “in good faith” (i) requested that the landlord provide pest control measures for a bed bug infestation,  (ii) complained about  a bedbug infestation to, or sought assistance relating to a bedbug infestation from, a government agency or public official, a community organization, or the news media, or (iii) testified in any administrative or court proceeding about any bed bug infestation.  Penalties imposed on landlords are potentially costly.  Moreover, if there is evidence of a tenant engaging in any of the protected conduct within one year of any alleged act of retaliation, that evidence creates a “rebuttable presumption” that the landlord’s conduct was retaliatory.

All Chicagoans Must Dispose Of Infested Property In Plastic Bags

Nobody in Chicago may dispose of any bedding, clothing, or other material infested with bed bugs anywhere in the public way (including inside a dumpster), unless the materials are “totally enclosed in a plastic bag and labeled as being infested with bed bugs.”   In addition, nobody in Chicago may recycle any bed bug infested material.

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